I was on a discussion board last week at a website which shall remain nameless. A question was posed as to whether or not participants feel any differently about actors and actresses in light of the behavior of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. Lots of participants weighed in on the subject and the majority of the responders mentioned that while they didn't feel differently because of these two particular examples, they had a pretty low opinion of Hollywood in general. One point that was mentioned over and over again by hundreds of different people, was what poor role models Lohan and Sheen are to children.
Wait. Back up the truck for a second. Who decided that actors and actresses are supposed to be role models for kids? I've been hearing this said about celebrities for years and I never really stopped to think about it but now that I have, it's a pretty strange idea. I mean, their jobs are to entertain us. Their jobs aren't really to be role models to our kids.
Celebrities are just people. Pretty people, talented people (sometimes), rich people, famous people. But just people. People who have given up their privacy (but not their right to it) to pursue their careers. They are well paid, however, life in Hollywood isn't cheap. We're told about every detail of their lives, if we choose to care, and even sometimes when we don't. But as much as we know, we never really know them. Which is as it should be. They're people just like you and I and they deserve to live their lives the way they want to. They deserve to make mistakes as much as anyone. Let's face it, if you or I get a DUI, no one really cares. If it makes the paper, it's going to be buried in the legal notices. It's certainly not going to be on CNN, TMZ or the cover of People magazine.
I realize that there are young stars that are on shows that kids like to watch. Miley Cyrus will be remembered by an entire generation as Hannah Montana, no matter what she goes on to do later in her life. When she was filmed shortly after her 18th birthday smoking from a bong, there was an outraged reaction from the press and from parents and even some young fans. How dare Miley sully the good name of Hannah Montana? Miley has, for several years in a row, been voted worst celebrity influence in several online polls. According to Miley and her publicity team, the singer was smoking salvia from the bong, which is a psychoactive herb, legal in California and most other states (for now), a fact she pointed out in her commendably and hilariously honest SNL monologue. Proclaiming that she's "mostly a white swan girl," she acknowledges she's had a few black swan moments. "I'm sorry that I'm not perfect," she belts out in a perfect send-up of a cabaret-style act. Imperfect she may be and I'm certainly past the age of Hannah Montana worship, but that girl has got some pipes! Who cares what she smokes or if she sings country music. She's talented.
Like Miley, fellow Disney alum Lindsay Lohan has recently been in the news again, also accused of being a bad influence. I can't keep track, nor really pretend to care, if she's in or out of rehab right now. I know there's been some flap about her supposedly shoplifting a necklace and that the Los Angeles judicial system can't seem to decide what to do with her. She was a pretty girl but her hard living is starting to catch up to her and although she's still pretty, she isn't quite the natural beauty she was a few years back. Far from being worried about being a bad influence herself, poor Lindsay probably wishes she'd had a few good role models of her own. Her father, Michael, was just arrested for domestic violence and her mother, Dina, had the questionable judgement to contract herself and younger daughter Ali, into a reality show called Living Lohan. Lindsay looks tired and extremely unhappy whenever she's interviewed on camera. I kind of feel sorry for her. Lots of people have something to say about how she lives her life but does anyone help? Is anyone there for her? Does she know any other way? I wonder. And is she even the party girl the press would like us to believe?
Charlie Sheen, of course, I've discussed here before. Charlie grew up in Hollywood as did Lindsay and Miley. Normal for us isn't normal for them and I'm not sure most of us have the ability to compare. I know I can't begin to imagine the strangeness of growing up half child, half commodity. Not to mention the expectations that go along with such a lifestyle, the temptations, the constant interference from the press. Most of us don't know what it means to see ourselves onscreen, be screamed at by fans or surrounded by paparazzi. We can't comprehend being a paycheck to our parents, the stress fame places on relationships or the expectations inherent to being a "role model" for millions of children close to our own age.
I don't have kids but I remember what it was like to be one. I don't recall looking to anyone in Hollywood as a role model. I know times have changed but shouldn't parents be encouraging their children to look at the people in their own lives as role models? Shouldn't parents be striving to be the role models they want their children to emulate? Later in life, your kids aren't going to think back to how Hannah Montana handled that situation, they're going to remember what mom and dad did. Kids need role models they can interact with, who can be a part of their everyday lives. They need to understand that even our heroes are human and they make mistakes. Shouldn't they see their teachers, parents, community leaders as their first role models? If I had kids, I'd want them to understand that people make mistakes. That celebrities are no different than anyone else. There are plenty of people in the entertainment business to be admired, just as there are in other walks of life. There are also a lot of politicians among our nation's leaders who I sure would not want my children to idolize.
Don't want your kids posing suggestively for Vanity Fair? Keep them away from Annie Liebovitz. (Should be pretty easy.) Don't want them doing coke? Having sex? Texting provocatively? Wearing skimpy clothes? Talk to them. Let them know that people make choices and that they have to live with the consequences of their choices. Explain that Hollywood operates under different rules and that although it might not seem fair, that's just how it is. Tell them that sometimes adults (even you) occasionally do things they shouldn't do or that you wouldn't like for them to do. Explain why. Be a parent. Realize that they might do some of these things anyway and that the things themselves aren't necessarily bad but the context in which they happen sometimes can be.
Stop expecting the world to raise your kids for you. Stop looking to Miley and Lindsay and Charlie to be a good example to your kids. Stop watching TMZ with your 10-year-old daughter. Or at least explain what tabloid journalism is and the difference between actors and actresses and the characters they play. But most of all, take a long look at yourself and make sure that you're modeling the things that you want your children to take with them into adulthood. Because, although it may not seem like it, you're the one they're paying the most attention to.